Government launches its Digital StrategyMatthew Evans
The Government today launched its Digital Strategy that aims to create “a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone”. The overarching goals of making Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research are admirable and ones that the BSG supports.
The main headlines of the Strategy are around skills, with the creation of more than four million digital skills training opportunities as part of a new Digital Skills Partnership which includes participation from Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Google. This is a welcome focus given the need to both supply the telecoms and digital sector with talent and skilled-labour as well as ensuring that everyone can take advantage of the benefits that digital technology delivers.
On infrastructure, the Strategy reconfirms the announcements made in the Autumn Statement on the £400m Digital Infrastructure Fund for ‘full fibre’ and the National Productivity Investment Fund that allocated £740m to 5G and full fibre investment. The expectation is that there will be more detail on these programmes in the Budget next Wednesday where we may also see the findings of the Business Broadband Review. One of the recommendations of this will be the creation of a Business Connectivity Forum which was announced in today’s Strategy:
Alongside this, the Strategy also brings together existing targets for the introduction of a Broadband Universal Service Obligation by 2020, superfast broadband and 4G rollout whilst also making clear that the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme should be opened up to commercial use as far as possible.
The Government is also clear that one of its most effective levers to increase investment into telecoms is by making the deployment of infrastructure easier through effective regulation
The BSG currently have a work programme dedicated to this area and will be publishing a report on how to make the planning process easier. Creating the right regulatory environment to stimulate network investment is a welcome objective but other disincentives to investment still remain. The business rates regime remains a key concern for network infrastructure providers that needs to be considered by Government as part of its Strategy to encourage investment in digital infrastructure.
Outside of telecoms there is a focus on driving digital through the private and public sector through a variety of interventions. There are also announcements aimed at boosting trade, with the creation of five international tech hubs which will follow the UK-Israel Tech Hub that Matthew Gould (now Director-General at DCMS) helped drive when he was Ambassador to Israel.
The Strategy also brings together a series of sectoral reviews into areas such as the creative industries, AR/VR which will sit alongside the money and industry review on Artificial Intelligence that was announced on the weekend.
There is a lot to welcome in the Strategy but, and perhaps naturally given that the industrial Strategy will provide more wrapping, it lacks a comprehensive narrative around how digital technology will drive growth and productivity through the whole economy. Whilst it rightly describes itself as a framework, on telecoms in particular there is a lack of public policy targets beyond the existing 2017 and 2020 timelines. This is something that we will continue to push for and seek to develop.